Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Grumble, Grumble

The very first post of this blog attempts to provide a definition of "grognard," both in its historical context and in its latter-day usage among wargamers and, by extension, roleplayers. I wrote that post more than a decade ago and, while I stand by what I wrote all those years ago, my thinking on the matter has evolved a little bit. This evolution was occasioned by several things, including the general mellowing that comes with age. However, some of that evolution comes from reflecting on a phenomenon I've observed over the past year or two, namely fans of Dungeons & Dragons 3e (or even Pathfinder) referring to themselves, unironically, as grognards.

Now, on the face of it, this seems absurd. After all, "grognard" was often used as a term of derision in RPG circles, one directed at stick-in-the-mud holdouts who weren't enthusiastic about the latest edition of a game. My recollection is that the term was thrown about a lot during the heyday of 3e. Anyone who objected to ascending armor class or the loosening of class restrictions was a doubleplusungood wrongthinker and roundly mocked. That some of the very same people who once used the word to ridicule others would now be applying it to themselves is bizarre, right?

Even a few years ago, I would have thought so. Now, I'm not so censorious. As I said, my thoughts on the matter have evolved. What I would say is that grognardism, for lack of a better word, is not about believing that older games are better than newer ones. Rather, it's about believing that just because something is old, it's not therefore bad. Put more positively, grognardism promotes the idea that fun games remain fun regardless of when they were published. There's nothing necessarily wrong with new games, especially if you genuinely enjoy them, but the same is equally true of older game, with "older" in this case simply meaning any version that is not the current one. 

I still have harsh words for neophilia, a vice closely tied to consumerism in our society and strongly encouraged by game publishers. But I can't muster any opprobrium for players of an edition later than my own preferred one who have chosen to embrace the term "grognard" in reference to themselves. 3e is now two decades old; there have in the years since been two more editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Choosing to stick with 3e because you have had fun with it and continue to do so is, I think, praiseworthy, even if it doesn't align with my own predilections. 

I hold out hope that, as time marches on, more gamers might begin to recognize that those of us who haven't adopted the new shiny aren't doing so out of retrograde contrariness but because we sincerely prefer an earlier version – and that those preferences can be and probably are rational ones. This entire blog is dedicated to articulating the reasons for my own preferences, as well as celebrating the games with which I have had – and continue to have – fun. I have never expected anyone to share my preferences or be convinced by my reasons for holding them. That was never my purpose, though I do hope I've in a small way contributed to a better understanding of the unique pleasures of what we now call "old school" roleplaying games and the culture that gave birth to them. I'll still grumble, of course, but I never wanted that to be all I do. 


  1. Yup been saying something similar for the past decade. Games are not technology, they are as fun (or not) today as they were back in the day. What can improve is their presentation or how it is taught.

  2. The idea that we stick with the old games not only because of nostalgia but also because they're good and fun in their own right is, IMO, one of the founding tenets of the OSR. Right up there with letting D&D be D&D (and understanding the reasons why it's so before you rush willy-nilly to house-rule away the things you may not like).

    I've been irked in recent days by some interactions I've had on the r/osr sub-reddit, where I've been told by at least three people that the OSR needs to move "beyond" D&D and drop the "baggage" of old games in favor of new OSR games that better live up to OSR "principles" (whatever the heck that's supposed to mean).

    Needless to say, I was baffled and appalled by this. It's the very same attitude that I saw in the lead-up to 3rd edition: old bad, new good, you stuffy grogs just don't know what's good for you. Yesterday I was told point-blank by a supposed OSR gamer that being a grognard makes you increasingly isolated and irrelevant. It's 1999 all over again. Either that, or there are elements within the OSR trying to turn it into the very thing it was born to fight against (the dismissive attitude towards TSR D&D and old games in general).

    That's all very disturbing, but it's not as important as the key question I always have about grognards.

    How in the heck to do you pronounce it? Anglicize it and say "grog-nard"? Frenchify it and say something like "gwan-yar"? I know that in the Queen's English the word "kobold" is supposed to sound more like "cobbled" than "cobalt," but for the life of me I'm never sure with "grognard."

  3. to be fair, I am satisfied to be a stick in the mud ;)

    I tried 5e (ran it for weeks as a favor to a friend running a store, wanted events to get people in). Cannot stand it. and the one thing I cannot get over, is the shield spell. is it the only reaction spell? bleh. any hoos, I tried 5e, hated it, and am content to sit in my pile of descending ACs, etc. I want more weird, and less Computer Emulation. Go play WoW, it is better at what it does than anything I can ever hope to do..


  4. 3E may be two decades old, but at this point the success of Pathfinder has effectively kept that rules set contemporary and running in parallel to the changes in D&D and growth of other systems (including retroclones) so it doesn't have the glitz of neophilia but it also doesn't have the impediments of discontinuity that come with an old edition passing out of publication and losing circulation.

    For me, I think that the few diehards who loved the play experience of classic WoW and the emulation of that which 4E brought to the TTRPG space, and continue to use the fourth edition rule set, are the contemporary equivalent of AD&D Grognards. They are the exponents of system which has gone to cancellation and is out of vogue.

  5. I always feel a bit like I have to defend my preference for RuneQuest 1st ed (1978). Apparently I'm in very rare company, in fact, almost everyone who plays an RQ derived game is playing something newer, Mythras, BRP, RQG, CoC, or whatever... Not even playing RQ2 or even RQ3 (and before RQG came out, MOST folks who still played RQ played RQ3...).

    Of course I also like Classic Traveller 1977...

    For D&D I don't absolutely have to play OD&D, I'm intrigued by BX (or OSE for a modern presentation) and would seriously consider running AD&D 1e again.

  6. Oh, and hey, is it possible to get a comment feed? I use inoreader to follow blogs, but a comment feed doesn't show up for Grognardia...

    1. There's a follow comments button at the bottom of the right hand column. If that doesn't work, I'm afraid I have no idea how to do that.